ESCAP and International Trade Centre partner to enhance capacity and policy dialogue on Afghanistan’s accession to WTO

H.E. Shaida Abdali, Ambassador of Afghanistan to India addressing the Capacity-building Programme.
Participants of the Programme gather for a group photo.

The newly established ESCAP South and South-West Asia Office (ESCAP-SSWA) based in New Delhi, which serves 10 countries in the subregion including Afghanistan, joined hands with the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva to organize a unique programme for public and private sector representatives involved in Afghanistan’s WTO membership accession.

The Capacity-building Programme for WTO Accession of Afghanistan was held from 22 to 24 August 2012 in New Delhi. It aimed to initiate and nurture a well-informed and structured policy dialogue between key players of Afghanistan’s WTO accession, by addressing knowledge-gaps and related trade policy and development issues. The three-day programme also drew lessons from Nepal’s experience as the first Least Developed Country to have acceded to the WTO and helped national officials develop a road map for WTO accession.

“It is crucial for Least Developed Countries to gain better access to the global economy, including through WTO accession which provides a rule-based and multilateral platform for participation in global trade. As Afghanistan is in an early stage in this process, extensive preparation is required, along with a clear understanding of opportunities and challenges the membership would bring, as well as the necessary skills to protect Afghanistan’s national interests”, noted Mr. Nagesh Kumar, Director of ESCAP South and South-West Asia office and Chief Economist of ESCAP at the opening of the programme.

Recognizing WTO membership as an important driver for economic growth and domestic reforms, Afghanistan applied for membership to the World Trade Organization in 2004.

Extending the gratitude of the Government of Afghanistan and its people to ESCAP and ITC, H.E. Shaida M. Abdali, Ambassador of Afghanistan to India commented at the start of the event: “Such Programme not only builds the critical institutional capacity Afghanistan direly needs but also encourages and facilitates public-private dialogue on issues that cannot be addressed by one side alone”.

“Afghanistan used to be at the heart of the old Silk Road, having served as the cradle of many rich civilizations… Today, it is at the crossroads of the new Silk Road. Acceding WTO will help us realize our full potential for sustainable development”, he said.

According to the ITC, a subsidiary organization of the WTO and the United Nations, improving understanding of all parties on the business implications of WTO membership, its opportunities and challenges can create conditions for vibrant export-oriented business operations, which can greatly assist in alleviating poverty.

“This three-day workshop is the first of its kind organized for Afghanistan. Its programme was developed to provide an overview of the WTO accession, benefits and challenges and to share experience of such negotiations and commitments from recently acceded countries”, noted Mr. Rajesh Aggarwal, Chief, Business and Trade Policy, ITC.

Essential features of trade policy and regulations that determine the export competitiveness of businesses were explored over the course of the Programme, which brought together key stakeholders from Afghanistan (both public and private), involved in the process of gaining accession to the World Trade Organization. It included 22 participants, including representatives from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of Afghanistan, the International Trade Department as well as the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

ESCAP-SSWA and ITC see the workshop as the first in a series and plan to assist Afghanistan through the accession process with more specific themes addressed in subsequent sessions and technical assistance on specific issues. As Afghanistan is moving into a crucial and demanding phase of accession negotiations, with several Working Party meetings scheduled from 2012 to 2014, this type of programme should gain even more relevance over time.